GOP voter fraud crackdown falters as charges are dropped in Florida and Texas

Dealing with setbacks in Republican-led voter fraud prosecutions, judges in Florida and Texas this week dropped charges against two former felons who were charged with voting when they were not eligible to do so. because of their criminal status.

Robert Lee Wood, one of those two criminals, was part of an August roundup led by Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, on voter fraud.

On Friday, a Miami-Dade County Circuit Court judge granted a motion to dismiss two felony charges related to voter fraud against Mr. Wood, 56, who spent two decades in prison for murder in the second degree. Mr Wood was among 20 people recently arrested in Florida for voter fraud and became the first defendant to have them dropped.

And on Monday, a Texas District Court judge overturned the indictment of Hervis Earl Rogers, a Houston man who gained attention for waiting seven hours to vote in the 2020 primary election. Last year Ken Paxton, a Texas attorney general and a Republican, accused Mr. Rogers of voting illegally because he was on parole.

The lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud hasn’t stopped Republicans from aggressively pursuing it in states where they hold power. Now, the outcome of the two high-profile cases has undermined the legitimacy of those efforts.

Bryan Griffin, a spokesman for Mr. DeSantis, said in an email Friday that the state disagrees with the dismissal of the charges against Mr. Wood and will appeal the decision.

“The state will continue to enforce the law and ensure that murderers and rapists who are not allowed to vote do not do so illegally,” Griffin said. “Florida will not be a state in which elections are left vulnerable or cheaters are left irresponsible.”

11th Judicial Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch’s ruling was limited to jurisdictional issues, not Mr. Wood’s electoral status. He said state prosecutors lacked standing in what was a local criminal proceeding. Prosecutors had tried to argue they had jurisdiction because Mr Wood’s voter application and ballot had been processed in another county.

“Because election violations of this nature impact all Florida voters, election officials, the state government, and the integrity of our republic, we continue to consider the Office of Prosecutions of state of Florida as the appropriate agency to prosecute these crimes,” Mr. Griffin said. .

Larry Davis, an attorney for Mr. Wood, said in an interview on Friday that his client was approached in the summer of 2020 by a campaign representative at a Miami-area Walmart asking if he wanted to register to vote.

When Mr. Wood told the person he was a convicted felon, the person said that a state constitutional amendment had restored felons to vote and so he filed an application, according to Mr. Davis . The amendment, however, excluded those convicted of murder or criminal sex offenses and required them to apply separately for reinstatement of their rights.

Mr. Wood received a state voter’s card six or seven weeks after filing the application, said Mr. Davis, who described the dramatic scene when his client was arrested at 6 a.m. in August.

“The house was surrounded by police who had automatic weapons,” Davis said. “They didn’t even let him get dressed and they took him to jail.”

In Florida, a conviction for voter fraud requires proof of intent. Mr. Davis said “there is absolutely no evidence” that his client deliberately broke the law.

The legal setback for Mr DeSantis, who is running for re-election in November and has White House ambitions, came days after body camera footage of law enforcement officers in the area emerged of Tampa who made similar arrests. In the videos, those arrested appeared puzzled and appeared to have broken the law out of confusion rather than intent.

Mr Davis said he had requested the body camera footage of Mr Wood’s arrest, but had not yet received it.

In the case of Mr. Rogers in Texas, Judge Lisa Michalk of the 221st District Court in Montgomery County, about 40 miles north of Houston, ruled on Monday that Mr. Paxton, as Attorney General of Texas, n did not have the authority to prosecute independently. criminal offenses under the Electoral Code.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Paxton did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

In a statement, Mr Rogers expressed relief that the indictment had been quashed.

“I am grateful that justice has been served,” Mr Rogers said. “It’s been horrible going through this, and I’m so glad my case is over. I can’t wait to get my life back.”

Tommy Buser-Clancy, lead attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and one of the attorneys who represented Mr. Rogers, lamented in a statement this week what happened to Mr. Rogers.

“He should never have been prosecuted in the first place, and this decision allows him to put this traumatic ordeal behind him and move on with his life,” Mr Buser-Clancy said.